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Flash News, 4-19: Finished Rein
Joffrey's Arpino to Step Down

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider

Gerald Arpino, who with Robert Joffrey co-founded the Joffrey Ballet more than half a century ago, will step down after two decades as the company's artistic director July 1, the company announced.

"The Joffrey is an American dream come true," said Arpino, 83, who as artistic director emeritus will continue to have a role with the troupe, one of the leading ballet ensembles in the U.S. and the world. Under Joffrey's vision, perpetuated and nurtured by Arpino when the former died from AIDS-related causes in 1988, the Joffrey changed ballet in America with a twin mission that combined ground-breaking new ballets -- such as Joffrey's psychedelic '60s work "Astarte" -- with digging of the archeological variety, focused on restoring Ballets Russes classics like "Rite of Spring." It also became the major repository in the U.S. for work by international giants like Frederick Ashton and John Cranko. Along with touring by Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, it was a leading factor in the U.S. ballet boom of the 1960s.

The company navigated tough straits in the 1980s and '90s, including an ill-advised, divisive, and ultimately aborted decision to divide its time between New York and Los Angeles, the artistically divisive "Billboards," set to the music of Prince, and difficulty making good on back-pay due some of its dancers prior to its move to Chicago in 1995-'96. But it kept to a commitment to pay the debt to the dancers, built a strong board in Chicago, and recently launched a major capital campaign.

"Bob and I created an American dance company that is known the world over, " Arpino said. "The Joffrey has always been an innovator, introducing new choreographers, while at the same time preserving historic works. The Joffrey's first Chicago performance dates back to 1957. Chicago has always and continues to embrace the Joffrey, and I am proud to call Chicago home. For the past 50 years, the Joffrey has been my home and I am committed to spearheading the effort to continue the legacy that is the Joffrey Ballet."

Gerald Arpino (left), artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, with Brunilda Ruiz and Paul Sutherland. Photo by and copyright Ra Cantu, and courtesy the Joffrey Ballet.

Arpino's own career proves that catastrophes can be turned into triumphs. His dance career was ended early on when he was dropped by Helgi Tomasson, currently the artistic director of San Francisco Ballet. The injury to his back was so severe there was doubt he would ever walk again. This past year, at a special alumni reunion to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary, Tomasson capped a tribute to his old comrade by joking that he hoped by now Arpino had forgiven him for dropping him, and going on to say that it was his Joffrey experience that prepared him to direct SFB. Arpino responded that Tomasson should not feel bad about dropping him, as the injury jump-started his next career as a choreographer. Today, more than a third of the company's repertoire is by Arpino.

The Joffrey has launched an international search for the third artistic director in its history, with a search committee comprised of board members and executive director Jon Teeuwissen, as well as Arpino. They'll have plenty of experienced candidates with Joffrey blood to choose from; Tomasson isn't the only alum who went on to direct a major troupe.

Meanwhile, Arpino isn't going away any time soon; his signature work "Light Rain" as well as "Valentine" will be on view when the company opens its Spring home season April 25 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

 

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